The Seven Major Styles of Salsa

While many teachers will try to tell you that there is only one style of Salsa, the TRUTH is that there are at least SEVEN major styles that are danced all around the world. As Salsa grew out of Cuban Mambo & Son, it mutated in New York where all the best musicians were also playing in Swing Bands. As it went from New York in the 50's back to the rest of the world, it mixed with local rhythms in each country. As the music mutates, the dancers follow and adapt. Countries that had Cumbia adopted more of a side to side style. Countries that had West Coast Swing & Disco adapted a more slotted style. Additionally the best dancers in each area decide for the group which way is best or which beat to dance on. And that goes on until the hot shot in town does something different.

What are the 7 Styles?

  1. Cuban (they invented it)
  2. New York (they changed it)
  3. Columbian
  4. Puerto Rican
  5. Miami/Cuban Casino
  6. LA
  7. Ballroom Mambo

Which is Good, Better, Best?

The best style is a) the one that fits the music, and b) the one your partner enjoys. As I like to ask: "What is the RIGHT religion?" I do all of them. I mix them- BECAUSE I CAN! Dancers who only learn ONE style, will tell you why that style is better. As the former owner of one of L.A.'s most popular nightclubs, I hired the bands. I rotated between bands that played Cuban, Puerto Rican, New York, and Colombia-flavored Salsa. It amazed me that couples came in weekly and danced the same way to music that was clearly different. For example, to dance slotted Salsa, you have to get everyone to AGREE in advance that they are all going to line up the same way, like ballroom dancers who all dance along the same line of dance. The problem was, so many dancers learned Salsa in their native countries and could not or WOULD not ever change. Add the non-trained dancers having fun dancing randomly, and you can see the problem. When done correctly, rotational Salsa takes half the space of slotted Salsa. If you watch and or dance with the best Salseros in the world, you'll see that we all mix elements from different styles- BECAUSE WE CAN! (Although we may have a preferred style.) Since Terryl and I have been dancing and teaching Salsa for over 30 years, we have learned all of them and can teach them. Which one do we do? The one that the BAND is playing!

In the adjoing column we have provided clips of our colleagues and friends so you can compare the different styles.

The Music?

"I thought it was ALL Salsa!" Salsa music is flavored by the area of origin. In Colombia, the Cali style dancers like the crazy fast music of Sonora Carruseles, Guyacan, Grupo Niche, and Fruko with their emphasis on strong brass sections. The New York dancers like the more jazz tinged music of Fania Allstars, Spanish Harlem, Orquesta Broadway. There they love long Timbal solos or any solos by great musicians for that matter. In Puerto Rico they like the old school legends, El Gran Combo and the Sonora Ponceña,and the silky vocalists like Gilberto Santarosa and Hector LaVoe. In Cuba the recent growth of Timba has brought in new artists like Los Van Vanand Bamboleo. Yet they still have the Charanga bands like Orquesta Aragon,Tipica 73. While Miami follows the CUban path, they also embrace the more pop sound of Willi Chirino, Gloria Estefan and the syrupsweet voices of Eddie Santiago, Marc Anthony, Frankie Ruiz. And who doesn't love Oscar D'Leon, El Gran Combo, and Celia Cruz. Since everyone will hear a mix of superstar music from the DJs. even if a band is only one style, we usually hear some of each. And since LA is such a melting pot of Central and South Americans we dance to everybody!

On 1 On 2??? What's That all About?

Which is better Vanilla or Strawberry? (I used to ask Chocolate, but that is a loaded question.) It is a preference. Here is an explanation I hope explains it:

  1. All Salsa music has 8 BEATS.
  2. All Salsa styles have SIX STEPS.
  3. The differences are which way you start, AND
  4. Which beat you BREAK on (on 1, on2, or on 3).
  5. Which instrument you are listening to (The Bass or the Conga/Tumbao).
  6. If you are stepping forward or stepping side on a beat- "does it feel BETTER?"
  7. Then if you are dancing on 1,2,3 5,6,7, how can it possibly FEEL better whether you are moving side or forward on 1?
  8. The only style that has CLAVE hits on both of the BREAKS is "on 3 dancing", which is why so many natural untrained dancers do that unconciously.

Here are a really very detailed couple of clips explaining the music and dance style comparisons:

  1. On2, On1, On CLAVE, On CONGA (part 1)
  2. On2, On1, On CLAVE, On CONGA (part 2)
  3. On2, On1, On CLAVE, On CONGA (part 3)

Club Dancing

Dancing at Sportsmen's Lodge

Professional Dancing

Salsa/Casino Rueda:

Salsa/Casino Rueda performance at LDLA


Timbalero performance at LDLA

More Salsa at Let's Dance LA

Enio's All-Stars (Salsa/Casino Rueda)

LDLA on Fox 11 News (Salsa)

Salsa 1-3 Demos (Salsa/Casino Rueda)

Enio on Telemundo

More Examples of Salsa Styles

Salsa Cubano

Cuban Salsa (Timba)

Cuban Salsa

New York Salsa (Eddie Torres)

Colombian Salsa (Cali Style)

Colombian Salsa (Caleño)

Puerto Rican Salsa (Tito Ortos)

Puerto Rican Salsa (Felipe Polanco)

Ballroom Salsa

Mambo (Pedro "Cuban Pete" Aguilar)